NY museum closes Indigenous exhibits as US rules change

January 27, 2024 / 6:26 PM
Sharjah24 - AFP: As per the recent federal regulations mandating museums to get tribe agreement prior to displaying Native American artifacts, the American Museum of Natural History in New York said on Friday that it would be closing two halls that already housed the exhibits.
In a note to staff, museum president Sean Decatur announced that the Woodlands and Great Plains halls would be closing Saturday.

The museum, which attracts some 4.5 million visitors a year, made the move in response to new rules from the Biden administration requiring museums to obtain consent from descendants of Indigenous tribes before displaying items relating to cultural, religious or burial practices or beliefs.

The ultimate goal of the new rules, which took effect January 12, is the return of such socio-cultural artifacts to the tribes that produced them.

Decatur said that given the significant number of artifacts on display in the two halls, in exhibits he called "severely outdated," the decision had been made to close them rather than covering or removing specific items.

Among items that have been on display -- popular with visiting schoolchildren -- were a birch-bark canoe from the Menominee tribe, 12,000-year-old darts, and a Katsina doll from the Hopi tribe in Arizona.

The decision, seen by some as hasty and others as long overdue, reflects a sense of "growing urgency" by all museums to review the way they represent Indigenous cultures, said Decatur. His museum's anthropology division is one of the country's oldest and most prestigious.

Other US museums -- the Field Museum in Chicago, the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University, and the Cleveland Museum of Art -- have covered some exhibit cases or withdrawn just the most sensitive items, according to The New York Times.

The museums were already generally prohibited from displaying human remains, but the new federal rules give them until 2029 to prepare any remains they do have, as well as accompanying objects, for repatriation to their places of origin.

Some of the remains were originally obtained from grave robbers or through disruptive digs in burial grounds.

Bryan Newland, assistant US secretary for Indian Affairs and a former president of the Bay Mills Indian Community, said the rules were drawn up in consultation with tribal representatives, who wanted their ancestors to recover dignity in death.

"Repatriation isn’t just a rule on paper," he told the Times, "but it brings real meaningful healing and closure to people."
January 27, 2024 / 6:26 PM

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